Missouri teen killed in fall from amusement park ride identified

Published: Mar. 25, 2022 at 11:59 AM CDT|Updated: Mar. 25, 2022 at 3:28 PM CDT
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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP/KMOV/CNN) — A 14-year-old boy fell to his death late at night from a free-fall amusement park ride that is taller than the Statue of Liberty along a busy street in the heart of Orlando’s tourist district.

Sheriff’s officials and emergency crews responded to a call late Thursday at Icon Park, which is located in the city’s tourist district along International Drive. Orange County Sheriff John Mina on Friday identified the teen as Tyre Sampson, who was visiting central Florida from Missouri. Detectives investigating the death will look into whether it was intentional or accidental, the sheriff said.

“It appears to be just a terrible tragedy,” Mina said. “We will see moving forward what that results in.”

Sampson was taken to a hospital, where he died, sheriff’s officials said. No additional details about the teen or the incident were immediately released.

John Stine, sales director for Slingshot Group, discusses the investigation into a death on the...
John Stine, sales director for Slingshot Group, discusses the investigation into a death on the company's ride Thursday night.

A video aired by NBC’s “Today” show Friday morning appears to show passengers on the ride discussing issues with a seat restraint Thursday night. The ride then began its trek up the tower before someone is later seen falling from the ride.

Sampson was an honor roll student and an aspiring football player, his father Yarnell Sampson told CNN. Tyre was visiting Orlando with his football team over spring break, his father said.

His son “was a very good young man. He was a big teddy bear, a gentle giant,” the elder Sampson said, adding Tyre was a “kindhearted kid” who would give the shirt off his back to anyone who needed it.

While holding back tears, Sampson told CNN he viewed the video of his son’s death on Facebook.

“I saw the video of my son falling down, and I couldn’t believe (it). My life stopped,” Sampson said.

“We are absolutely saddened and devastated by what happened, and our hearts go out this young man’s family,” John Stine, sales director with the Slingshot Group which owns the ride, told The Associated Press on Friday morning.

The Free Fall ride and an adjacent ride, the Sling Shot, have been closed indefinitely, Stine said. His company operates the two rides at Icon Park.

“We are cooperating with all other investigations at this time to get to the bottom of what happened,” Stine said.

Stine said there had been no issues reported previously with the Free Fall ride, which opened over the holidays.

The Florida Department of Agriculture, which oversees amusement ride inspections with the exception of the state’s largest theme parks, has launched an investigation, and inspectors were at the site Friday, spokesperson Caroline Stoneciper said in an email.

The ride stands 430-feet tall and is billed as the world’s tallest free-standing drop tower, according to the park’s website. The ride holds 30 passengers as it rises in the air, rotates around the tower and then tilts to face the ground before free falling at more than 75 mph, the website said. The ride has over-the-shoulder restraint harnesses, with two hand grips at the chest level, that riders pull down and then they are released automatically at the end of the ride.

In 2021, a maintenance technician who was not properly hooked up to a safety device plunged 225 feet to his death at a neighboring ride at the park, the 450-foot-tall StarFlyer swing ride.